Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Netflix, I Really Like You, but...

Dear Netflix,

We've been together now for nearly two years.

Sure, we've had our moments... Remember your outage back in May? I was trying to watch you online and you weren't available.

Hey, I realize these things happen. Then the next day, you wrote to say you were sorry:

"We are sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused. If you were unable to watch a movie or TV show last night due to the technical issues on the website, please click the link below, and we will apply a 2% credit to your next billing statement."

Still not sure how I felt about that. At the time, I was on the 2 DVDs out at-a-time plan for $13.99. 2% comes out to 28 cents. 28 CENTS? That's it?! That's what our relationship is worth to you?

Okay, okay, I'm still a bit sore. But I digress...

Admittedly, we've had a lot of great times. Without you, I would have never known about MI-5 ("Spooks" in the UK) or seen Arrested Development. You've found me some really great obscure films; and given me the chance to revisit some of my all-time favorites.

You're great. Really. I really, really like you.

But then, you keep doing this:

POP-UNDER ads? What are you thinking?!

First -- don't know if you realize this -- I AM ALREADY A CUSTOMER!!!!!!!

Second -- about the mailers you keep sending -- I AM ALREADY A CUSTOMER!!!!!!!

But pop-under ads?! Really???? That's so 1999.

Why??! And you know I have the "Block Pop-Up Windows" option checked in my Web browser. Each time that happens, ever so slowly, it chips away at the relationship we built.

And I even use this computer to play your "Watch Instantly" movies. Don't your cookies catch this? It's beginning to made me think you really don't care.

Maybe it's best that we don't see each other for a while.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Podcasts, Part 2: Experiential Podcast Round-Up

In my previous post, I waxed on-and-on about the therapeutic/inspirational benefits of podcasts.

This time, let me justify this enthusiasm with a collection of my favorite Experience Management and Design-related podcasts:

BusinessWeek: Customer Service Champs
A very interesting series of interviews with a number of leading practitioners.

Customer Management IQ - IQPC
Though this focused primarily on contact center practices, this also features insightful interviews & speakers. (Be sure to check out the July 2009 talk with Colin Shaw.)

Dwell Videos
Ranging from one to seven minutes in length, these are beautifully produced glimpses about home design.

Design Observer
Two categories here -- the current run and past archives of interviews/discussions with a broad range of designers leading designers.

> Design Matters with Debbie Millman: (Current: 2009-10)

> Design Matters with Debbie Millman (Archive: 2005-09)

Free: The Future of a Radical Price Podcast
Free audio book version of Chris Anderson's (Wired magazine and The Long Tail fame) newest book. In this gratis offering, he puts his money where his month is.

Motley Fool Conversations
A quality series of discussions with interesting people. (Check out the Sept. 23rd episode with Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal.)

Predictably Irrational - Video Podcast
A simple but effective series on behavioral economics.

Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen
A brilliant weekly radio program from WNYC and PRI covering the arts, culture, and the world of design. There's always something insightful to be discovered by listening.

Target Women
Sarah Haskins of Current TV does an absolutely smash-up job of skewering advertising/marketing trends.

CONCEPTS: The Daily Motor
While I'm not a huge motorhead, I love seeing new auto designs and innovations.

Do You Have Recommendations?

Share them in the Comments area below.

Podcasts, Part 1: A Confession (Join Me!)

Okay, I'll confess... I am addicted.

I love podcasts. I mean really, really love 'em.

They are a big part of my daily info-hunger habit: on my morning walk/run, as I shower-N-shave, while mowing the lawn or doing other housework; they sometimes even help lull me to sleep at night.

Sure, I love nothing more than poring through traditional printed newspapers or magazines. But who's got the time?! Even scanning online articles requires focused effort.

Benefits of Podcasts

Podcasts are different. They are highly portable (via an iPod, iPhone, or other MP3 player) and can be consumed while doing other things: a perfect 21st century medium. I even listen to them on my computer as I work.

What I love most about podcasts is that they put me in control. Take National Public Radio, for example. If time were not a factor, I'd listen to NPR all day.

Podcasts to the rescue... Now, I can subscribe to a few of the NPR programs I most enjoy, pick-N-choose episodes I really want to hear, and decide -- on my terms -- when/where I want to hear them. All for free! (Though I am a regular contributor to my local station, tote bag/coffee mug and all.)

It has both revolutionized radio (an early 20th century innovation, making it again relevant) and my life.

Another motivation? For months now, I have been trying to convince a colleague (you know who you are) of the merits of podcasts -- but to no avail.

So now I'm going public.

Getting Started

Intrigued, but don't know where to start? It's actually quite simple.

Start by downloading the very latest version of Apple's iTunes software [FREE!], for Windows or Mac here: http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/ [Note: You DO NOT need to provide your email; but those "New Music Tuesday" alerts can be interesting.]

Once you've downloaded iTunes, you're ready to roll. The great thing is that is continues to be free. You do not even need an iTunes Store account to enjoy podcasts.

Just launch iTunes, click on the iTunes Store icon (left column), and start browsing the Podcast section. I could go on-and-on with further instructions, but, like other Apple innovations, you'll find it all to be fairly intuitive.

One final note of guidance: when you find a podcast of interest, simply click the "Subscribe" button. You'll be asked to confirm and you're good-to-go -- visit the "Podcasts" icon (under your LIBRARY, also in found in the left column) and see the fruits of your labor.

See this tutorial for more details:

Tips for Podcast Fans

To be continued...

NEXT UP: Several recommendations of Experience-Related podcasts.

Designing for Women: Femme Den

The focus of this month's issue of Fast Company is "Masters of Design" (MD). If, perchance, you have not picked it up/read it, please do.

Among the featured people/groups in the MD feature is Femme Den, "an internal think tank at Smart Design... helping companies tap the $2 trillion female market."

This issue contains a number of articles/call outs about Femme Den and their work and influence. But to cut-to-the-chase, the key take-away is here:

Femme Den's Five Tenets of Designing for Women | Link

1. Emphasize benefits over features
2. Learn her body
3. Craft a cohesive story
4. Identify a spot on the spectrum
5. Remember her life stages

One might challenge the notion that good design can/should be gender-specific. And like many things, there is still a lot of catching up to do from the old school world of male-centered design.

But much like our earlier post discussing adaptive design, everyone can benefit. Here is a take from Femme Den member, Yvonne Lin:

Designing for Gender, When One Or Both Parties Reap the Rewards
The most successful products are designed for one sex but embraced by both. Link

[And I adamantly deny the point made about the Dyson vacuum...]

The Fast Company bits-N-pieces on Femme Den are extremely insightful. See the full collection here:

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Human Side of Healthcare

Thank you to Mark Hurst of Good Experience for this alert. [If you don't subscribe to his excellent Good Experience email newsletter, you really should. They are simple, relevant, and always insightful. Sign up here.]

Mayo Clinic photo

Minnesota's own Garrison Keillor, author, poet, and host of radio's A Prairie Home Companion, recently suffered a minor stoke. In his regular Salon.com column, Keillor shares the medical -- and human experience -- he had at the Mayo Clinic.

Sept. 16, 2009 | Salon.com

"Nurses are smart and brisk and utterly capable. They bring some humor to the situation. ('Care for some jewelry?' she says as she puts the wristband on me.) And women have the caring gene that most men don't. Men push you down the hall in a gurney as if you're a cadaver, but whenever I was in contact with a woman, I felt that she knew me as a brother. The women who draw blood samples at Mayo do it gently with a whole litany of small talk to ease the little blip of puncture, and 'here it comes' and the needle goes in, and 'Sorry about that,' and I feel some human tenderness there, as if she thought, 'I could be the last woman to hold that dude's hand.' A brief sweet moment of common humanity."

With a vigorous debate underway on healthcare and all its complexities, Keillor beautifully cuts to the chase on what really matters most.

[SIDE NOTE: To learn more about the Mayo Clinic and its renown brand of care, I highly recommend the recent book by Len Berry and Kent Seltman, Management Lessons from the Mayo Clinic: Inside One of the World's Most Admired Service Organizations. Links: Amazon.com or Google Books (including links to your local library)]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speaking of Community Design...

Closely related to my last post on Queens, New York's Forest Hills Garden...

David Byrne's Perfect City
A Talking Head Dreams of a Perfect City

The Sept. 11, 2009 Wall Street Journal had a very good Life & Style article by David Byrne. In it, Byrne sets out to define what, he feels, makes a city livable. He lays out these 10 elements:

- Size
- Density
- Sensibility and attitude
- Security
- Chaos and danger
- Human scale
- Parking
- Boulevards
- Mixed use
- Public spaces

From a human factors perspective, I find his "Scale" category most interesting:

"Scale is important. In London people hang out in Soho, Covent Garden, Mayfair and other areas of mostly low buildings packed closely together. The City (their financial district), like the downtown in many American cities, is full of tall offices and it empties out at night. It isn't that bustling in the daytime either. Some sort of compromise might be more ideal—the tall towers mixed in with the modest-sized shops and restaurants."

But one also has to love the idea of "Chaos and Danger". As Byrne puts it, "A little touch of chaos and danger makes a city sexy."

For Minnesotans, there's even an insightful comment about Minneapolis missed by many lake or sea-side communities. Check it out.

[SIDE NOTE: Since being the front man for the Talking Heads, Byrne has explored a number of fascinating topics including design. Though dated, his 2003 article for Wired magazine, Learning to Love PowerPoint, is a thought-provoking read. Find this viewpoint balanced with Edward Tufte's PowerPoint is Evil. Who doesn't love a spirited debate?]

Engaging Suburban Design

Photo by Witold Rybczynski for Slate

Sifting through the small backlog of potential post topics from this past summer, I revisited this wonderful feature in Slate by architect, writer, and educator, Witold Rybczynski:

Forest Hills Gardens
A walkable, transit-oriented, architecturally rich planned community, built 100 years ago.

"The planned community of 142 acres, which introduced the British Garden City movement to the United States, was intended to demonstrate the latest ideas in town planning, housing, open space, and building construction. It's pretty obvious that in the intervening years, Levittown, N.Y.—not Forest Hills—became the prototype for American planned communities... One of the strengths of the Garden City movement was that it dealt with town planning in a comprehensive way, and this 100-year-old piece of New York City remains a model for how the attractions of town and suburbs can be combined."
See the online slideshow and narrative here

This planned community in Queens, New York, was started in 1909 and featured many sought-after innovations today: mixed retail and housing, proximity to major transportation (Forest Hills has its own station, just a 20-minute train ride into Manhattan), individually styled home designs, plenty of trees, pocket parks, and very good walkability.

See more background and related links via Wikipedia.

I agree with Rybczynski about the shame of most suburban design going the way of Levittown, NY (and later, Levittown, PA), recognized as the first of many bland, often sidewalk-less, every-house-looks-the-same subdivisions.

Levittown layout from the air

Now, 100 years later, a new revolution is underway to design more human- (rather than auto) centered communities. Here are a few examples:

When you think of it, neighborhoods and communities are among the designs that most impact our daily lives. Here's to a more enlightened approach.

[Side note: If you're not familiar with him, check out the books of Witold Rybczynski. A few of my favorites include: City Life, One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw‎, and Home: A Short History of an Idea. All are insightful, well-written, and engaging.‎

Also, see the entire collection of pieces he has done as Slate's architecture critic here.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evidence of Retailers Understanding Their Customer

I first heard about this exercise a few years ago from a student who worked for a major pharmacy chain...

The Sept. 14, 2009 Wall Street Journal (Marketplace section, page 1) has an interesting feature on a program conducted by Kimberly-Clark to help product managers, executives, and retailers better understand the unique challenges faced by their aging customers.

To do this, participants wear thick leather gloves, special glasses that obscure vision, thumbs bound to hands with wrap, or placing un-popped popcorn kernals inside their shoes.

Seeing Store Shelves Through Senior Eyes

"The program, run by Kimberly-Clark Corp. and delivered to retailers including Rite Aid Corp. and Family Dollar Stores Inc., is a sign of a next frontier in retail. The number of adults aged 65 and older will reach 71.5 million people by 2030, twice their number in 2000 and representing nearly 20% of the total U.S. population, according to estimates by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics."

As the child of parents well over age 65, I am thinking more and more about the needs of seniors and their experiences with a variety of retailers, medical providers, and other day-to-day interactions.

Kimberly-Clark understands this isn't just the right thing to do; it also translates to good business:

"As baby boomers turn 65 years old beginning in 2011, they are expected to spend an additional $50 billion over the next decade on consumer products in the U.S., estimates Sean Seitzinger, senior vice president of consulting and innovation for market-research firm Information Resources Inc."

The article goes on to show changes being made by individual retailers based on better catering to this growing market: from larger type size on labeling and improved lighting to more clear shelf labels.

Very much like many accessibility design improvements, everyone ends up benefiting. Examples of this include sidewalk curbs, street crossings, wider doorways and passageways, etc. [See Accessible Sidewalks and Street Crossings: An Informational Guide (download PDF) via BikeWalk.org]. While these improvements are intended to help with wheelchair and walker access, cyclists, parents with strollers, etc. also benefit.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Play It Again, Sam

A while back, you may have seen a post about the Street Piano program -- painted pianos showing up in major cities of the world. Each features a simple sign stating: "Play me, I'm yours".

In my travels this summer, I had the pleasure of stumbling on one of these pianos.

Was it in London? Sydney? Sao Paulo?

No. I discovered one of these gems in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

A SDSO "Find the Pianos" instrument at Sioux Falls' Falls Park

The Sioux Falls version, "Find the Pianos", is sponsored by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, where they have scattered nine artist-designed pianos throughout the city. Learn more here:

In the short time my brother and I observed the piano, several people, young and old, were attracted to the keys and started playing.

This wonderful project, aside from being a clever marketing campaign for the orchestra, draws on a combination of whimsy, design, and curiosity.

It was great to see this process in action.

Speaking of GPS...

On a similar topic as my last post about the occasional rudeness of GPS interfaces, here's a recent innovation featuring "Augmented Reality".

Metro Paris Subway iPhone and iPod Touch Application

What's augmented reality?

From Wikipedia:
"Augmented reality research explores the application of computer-generated imagery in live-video streams as a way to expand the real-world. A typical example of augmented reality is a video of a car whose part names are displayed with graphical labels, overlaid onto the image in correct positions (as if hovering in mid-air)."
And from Gizmodo, ("the gadget blog"), the augmented reality tag is chock-full of examples: http://gizmodo.com/tag/augmented-reality

But it was this post on Gizmodo -- First Augmented Reality iPhone App Now Available For Paris Travelers -- that drew my attention to a very cool application of this technology for Paris, France Metro patrons. (Note: this video features French narration; even if you're not a francophone, you should be able to get the general idea.)

My only concern would be iPhone users running into each other searching for the nearest Metro stop. Plus it has several limitations: First, this app is only available for the Paris subway system; but to be sure, the idea will spread quickly to other cities and regions. Also, it requires the very newest model of iPhone, the 3GS.

Learn more about the developer, Presselite, and the application here: http://www.metroparisiphone.com/index_en.html (in English)

The applications for overlaying real-time visual data with interpretive or up-to-date information are unlimited: travel, navigation, education, research, social interaction, and more.

How would you like to see this augmented reality technology used?

GPS: Quit Bossing Me Around!

This article from the Economist Technology Quarterly (The Economist, Sept. 5, 2009) really got me thinking:

The road ahead
From The Economist print edition
Consumer electronics: Your next satellite-navigation device will be less bossy and more understanding of your driving preferences

Despite its remarkable technology (remember when we once used paper maps?), this article raises some insightful points about the emotional impact of current GPS interfaces:

DO YOU get a quiet sense of satisfaction in deviating from the route recommended by your satellite-navigation device and ignoring its bossy voice as it demands that you “make a U-turn” or “turn around when possible”? A satnav’s encyclopedic knowledge of the road network may justify its hectoring tone most of the time, but sometimes you really do know better. The motorway might look like the fastest way but it can be a nightmare at this time of the day; taking a country lane or a nifty shortcut can avoid a nasty turn into heavy traffic; or sometimes the chosen route is simply too boring.

This is so true. The often abrupt commands can really grate on a person after several times. (I have friends who refer to their GPS as "Carmen", and often find themselves fighting/disagreeing with her on a drive.)

But most important, this points out that great innovation and technology is one thing; but how we interact with it is another.

What would you do recommend to improve the GPS user experience?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Extraordinary Summer

Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona

Labor Day is over and autumn is quickly approaching -- time to dust off the old Blog and get back to work...

But before doing that, I just have to share some of my summer. (Consider this my contribution to the collective assignment, "What I Did Over Over Summer Vacation".)

This summer was almost fully devoted to family, spanning generations:
  • Took a two-week road trip with my daughter on Route 66 -- the full drive from Chicago to Los Angeles (photo highlights here)
  • Helped move my parents from Smalltown, America to Minnesota's Twin Cities
Each where extremely rich experiences.

On the drive, we cut through a large swath of the United States observing sharp contrasts: from major cities to remote towns, stunning beauty to depressing blight, amazing down-home cooking to very ordinary fast food.

The move included house hunting, real estate details, and lots of construction and renovation. In the process, I learned much too much about electrical, plumbing, tiling, painting, heating & air, and general fix-it repair.

But beyond the places and things, this summer was mostly about the people I spent it with. To my family, friends, and colleagues, I could not imagine a more fulfilling time.

Thank you all so much. I will never forget these past few months.